Peter Cullen is a Certified ProAdvisor® and partner with Core Performance Consulting in Southern California. His firm has been on a journey to reposition the services they deliver. Instead of leading with tax and accounting compliance, they lead with business coaching and advisory services.
Most firms are so busy delivering the traditional compliance services that they struggle with how to shift to advisory services. Cullen says it begins with the questions they ask. He says, “When we visit a client or a prospect, we go in wide open to understand what is important to the client. We ask questions like, ‘What are your goals?,’ ‘what does success look like for you?,’ or ‘what problems can we help you solve or improve?’ Once we understand what is important to them, we design their accounting to support their goals.”
Good data supports the business coaching, which comes from accurate accounting. Cullen says, “Owners always know if the business is on track or there is a problem, but usually, they just know it intuitively based on a feeling, not from the data in the financials. When the books are a mess, it creates uncertainty for the owner, and they make decisions based on a hunch. They need our help to make better decisions.”
All of Core’s clients use cloud accounting — either hosted QuickBooks® Enterprise or accounting SaaS, such as QuickBooks Online (QBO). Using cloud accounting allows Core Performance and the client to always keep the books accurate. Cullen says, “Intuit provides the tools to get the financials right. We are moving beyond balance sheet and income sheet items into more project management, margin by customer and invoices per customer. Owners want us to help them grow. We focus on helping them grow and be profitable. It is more about coaching and advising now and less about taxes and accounting.”
While most firms still generalize, industry gurus say that specialization is the key to success in the future. Cullen’s firm services many industries, but he says, “We specialize in real estate. We believe in it. We speak at conventions, and we go after real estate investors with a vengeance. QBO allows us to assign tags to a customer or cost, so we can do project accounting. This is key for real estate flippers to know where they are and how much they need to charge to make money. We teach the benefit of why to categorize, and when they understand it, they use what we teach them because they value the real business outcomes of good data.”
Cullen recognizes that part of being a trusted advisor involves understanding the latest technologies and business models available to this new generation of clients. “New entrepreneurs automatically start a business in the cloud and never consider adding their own servers and infrastructure.” Cullen’s firm leverages a host of cloud applications to support their clients, including QBO, Bill.com, QBO Payroll and TSheets. Advising about new business models goes beyond the traditional tax considerations of being a sole proprietor or incorporating. “A lot of the new economy biz models are going to fail, but some are going to be successful,” Cullen says. They help customers use accounting data to support business decisions.
When asked what differentiates his firm from his competition, Cullen replies, “The older generation of accountants includes technicians, adjusting books and delivering tax returns. We like working with the under-age forty, and sometimes, under-age thirty entrepreneurs, who want help to solve important business problems.” Cullen finds this type of engagement more satisfying. “I want to be the person who helps people achieve their dreams, not the tax guy. I want to build a business that changes people’s lives,” he says.
It appears he is on the right path.